Parasocial relationships are real, valuable, and meaningful parts of our lives. When we “breakup” with a fictional character, tv show, or favorite celebrity, it can create feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, and loss, just like in a personal relationship.
Have you ever had a favorite thing? A thing that was so fun and moving to you that you immersed yourself in it? We have all probably experienced this in some way. What happens, then, when you feel like to have to set that aside? Maybe it has become too stressful. Maybe your fave has become problematic. Maybe your show got unceremoniously cancelled without warning. Maybe the fandom has become too toxic and you need to take a step back to protect your mental health. Maybe your favorite boy band member left the group.
These are all examples of parasocial breakups. Parasocial relationships are the ones we have with fictional characters, celebrities, or media figures who we don’t know personally, but who matter to us nonetheless. Research has shown that these relationships create real feelings of connection and belonging in us, and can help us feel at ease and be more goal-oriented. So, it goes to reason, then that when we lose those relationships, there are real consequences. It’s not weird to feel sad!
How do you take care of yourself after a breakup? It likely depends on the relationship. Sometimes what we need is distance so that we’re able to move on. Sometimes jumping into a new thing or relationship can help us feel better more quickly. If the breakup isn’t our choice (like with a show cancellation or band member leaving) there might be a lot more grief associated with it, in which case we might need to spend some time reflecting on the value and importance that relationship brought to our lives. We can be gentle with ourselves as we mourn. Things can be even more tricky when we find out our fave has a history of abusive or troubling behaviors. We’re very likely to feel betrayed; our trust has been broken. We might feel silly for having looked up to them, or for caring as much as we do.
No matter the circumstances of the parasocial breakup, it can be helpful to focus on self-compassion (it’s okay and makes sense that you’re feeling how you’re feeling about it; work on letting go of self-criticism and self-judgement about having feelings), self-care, and reaching out, connecting with, or leaning on your other social supports to get through.
Struggling with a parasocial or personal breakup? Want a therapist who isn’t going to judge your passions, obsessions, and interests? Reach out today to schedule an appointment.